13 Nov Stress by Mia Ford Honorary Assistant Psychologist
It has recently been National Stress awareness day and I think we have all experienced some form of stress at some time and know how it can feel. It can affect us emotionally, making us feel irritable, anxious, lacking in self-esteem, and feeling overwhelmed. Mentally, we can find it impossible to stop our mind racing with thoughts and worries, making concentration and decision making difficult. Physically, stress can bring on numerous and varied symptoms, some common ones include, muscle tension, headaches, upset stomach, tiredness, sleep problems and eating too little or too much. Often our behavior may also change, such as smoking or drinking more, snapping at people, mood swings, avoiding people or situations that are creating problems for us.
There is no medical definition for stress. It is usually caused by us feeling that we have no control of events in our lives and/or big life changes. Happy events such as getting married or having a baby can be stressful, as well as events such as a serious illness or redundancy. It’s our perception of not being able to cope with the demands being placed upon us. It may be one large demand or a combination of many smaller demands building up. Stress can be experienced in every aspect of our lives, often in several areas at once. These include family, friendships and relationships, work, housing, finances, health and personal issues.
Unmanaged long-term stress, such as caring for someone or being in a toxic relationship (romantic or not) can create increased inflammation in your body, which can develop into various serious health problems. However, health problems can also be the cause of stress. Therefore, it is important to manage external stressors and build up emotional resilience to better cope with challenging situations. A key strategy to managing stress is to address the problem, ignoring it can often make it worse. To deal with stress in a positive, helpful way, it is necessary to identify what is causing the stress. If this is not obvious, it may be necessary to keep a stress diary to help identify patterns of stressors. Every time you feel stressed record, what triggered your stress (guess if you’re unsure). How did it make you feel physically and emotionally. How did you respond and what did you do to make yourself feel better. Logging these observations, may also highlight how your own thoughts, attitudes and feelings contribute to your daily stress levels. We often avoid taking responsibility for our own role in creating or maintaining our stress levels. We do this by making excuses. For example, blaming our stressful feelings on other people or as part of our situation, or something we can do nothing about. Until we take responsibility for our own part we play in our stress levels, they will always be outside our control.
Once you are aware of your stressors, experiment with different ways to manage them, to find what works best for you. Sometimes it is possible to avoid minor stressors such as traffic, by leaving earlier to avoid rush hour. Be more realistic about how many things you will be able to cross off your to ‘do list’ each day. Learn how to say ‘no’ to avoid over commiting. If it is impossible to avoid the stressor, try changing the situation by changing your behavior or communication. For example, be willing to compromise or soften/firm up your approach. If the situation is beyond your control (such as a national recession), then accept the situation for what it is. Instead, focus on taking control of yourself, by changing your expectations and attitude to the situation. A healthy work/life balance is vital to reducing stress levels. Manage your time better to include time for fun, relaxation and spending time with others. Take more care of yourself by eating healthily, and get enough sleep and exercise. If you would like to take a more detailed look at managing stress, please take a look at the links below.